This story is about Tony Snow, a homeless man, humanity, and me. I will begin with Press Secretary Snow. My focus will not be on the unforgivable term, though I too struggle with its usage. Instead, I will discuss what for me, was a more meaningful lesson.
In this day and age of snarky, once known as snide, rude, and crude, it was a delight to witness genuine emotion.
Tony Snow exhibited feelings, heart-felt, and deep, at his first news conference. The novice Press Secretary was asked what might have been considered a casual and innocuous question; journalists inquired of his Live Strong bright yellow bracelet. These bangles are as ubiquitous as clothing itself. They can be seen anywhere, everywhere; rarely are they worn with significance. Still, when queried of this wristlet, Tony Snow paused. He was sincerely and visibly choked up. For a time he could not speak.
Moments later, with a quiver in his voice, and tears in his eyes, Snow replied. The Press Secretary was sobbing softly as he spoke. He told this audience of journalists that he was a survivor of colon cancer, an illness that had taken the life of his mother when he was very young, seventeen years of age. Snow stated, that years ago, such a malady was considered fatal; however, with the use of modern technology, he was able to fight the disease and live on. He was thriving and staying strong. While acknowledging all the turmoil over health care in America, Tony Snow said, with thanks to the quality attention he received, he was here and enjoying life.
This event was newsworthy. Tony Snow, a White House Press Secretary cried. His tears were not exaggerated or put on. They were not meant to evoke empathy or sympathy. These were not the playful antics of a plotting personality. The tears were not those of a clown or a court jester; they were unexpected, unadulterated, untainted by position or pretense. The cries sprung from a man who had suffered, and was given reason to reflect; they were from one that learned.
At a younger age, Mr. Snow might have forced himself to suppress the sniffles. He might have feared what people think, would say, or do if they witnessed a grown man cry. Snow in his twenties might have been concerned that a man in his position, appearing on television, and working within the White House cannot show sorrow or sentiment so publicly. However, I suspect with age comes wisdom. Experiences teach us empathy and we evolve. Still, sadly, few of us ever expose our emotions or ourselves. His story takes me to my own.
While my pain may not have been as life threatening, it did cause me to ponder. The care I received was not in a hospital; nor was it from medical personnel. My mentor had been through much and had much to teach me.
Today’s older and wiser never expected to be. They are from a generation that rallied round stating, “You cannot trust anyone over thirty years of age.” They meant it; they believed it. Few ever thought they would live beyond that age.
The youth of the sixties was certain that they were more informed and aware than their elders, and possibly, they were. Probably they were. These rebels were willing to question everything and every authority. I do not challenge that idea. Humph, I live it, bathe in it, and believe it to be vital. Nevertheless, in some subtle ways I think this cynicism has worked against us. It has created a counter culture that no longer feels anything but anger.
Anger has replaced action; in a sense, anger has evolved into apathy. [I offer this aside for those not familiar with the way in which I define action versus reaction. For me, actions are loving, caring, creative, and productive. Reactions are the result of fear, hurt, and pain. They are often counter measures and thus, counter-productive.]
No, it is not that all persons are unconcerned; they are not. Many are “activist,” in a reactionary sort of way. Nevertheless, too many are indifferent to the way in which their thoughts words, or deeds affect others and the ultimately result in an unwanted outcome.
People walk around spouting the words “I don’t care.” They do not care about other than their interests, their friends, family, and themselves. I myself work so hard to avoid using this pervasive phrase because “I do care.” I have come to realize that if we do not care for or about others then we care not for or about ourselves, because, in truth, we are all connected. “No man is an island.”
"If you love yourself, you love everybody else as you do yourself. As long as you love another person less than you love yourself, you will not really succeed in loving yourself, But if you love all alike, including yourself, you will love them as one person and that person is both God and man. Thus he is a great and righteous person who loving himself, loves all others equally!" - Meister Eckhart from The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm, page 56
In the world today we work hard to forfeit and fight against connections. Walk down the street and watch, as the faces of others turn away from your own. Smile at your neighbor and notice how often they do not beam back. They as you are in a hurry, preoccupied with their own thoughts, their own worries, and their own fears. They have no time to engage you or yours.
Weeks ago while wallowing in my thoughts, I was engaged; I was drawn to a sign. I was driving from Lowe’s Home Improvement Center going to PetsMart, and traveling down highway 441. I was pondering my recent decisions and determining what was to become of me. I had recently made extreme changes in my life. I had entered the world of the unknown. Fear had become my unwelcome friend.
For years, I had lived happily in my habits. I went to work. I swam; I wrote and I cooked great quantities of healthy food. I played with my babies. I chatted with friends. I lived in a home I made my own. On occasion, I would walk around the lake. Life was good, very good. Nevertheless, I sought more.
For decades, I lived in California. I had never wanted to live in that state; still, my family moved there and since I love my family, I followed. I never regretted that decision; however, I did not feel connected to this territory. For all the years that I lived there I was never willing to say, “I am from California.”
For me, weather is not a superficial subject; it influences the way I feel. The climate in “Sunny Southern California” is not that. A maritime malaise fills the sky until late afternoon. The June gloom begins in May, and it affects me. I wanted out.
Since childhood, I reveled in Florida weather. The topics were my treasure. Therefore, I decided to move South and East, to go where my heart was. However, much was not as I expected.
I planned for my employment. I intended to do as I had done for decades in California. I did not fear financial ruin; I trusted all would be well. After taking time to complete my house, I returned to work. “Returned” is not the right word for this is a different state, city, and circumstance. What was once my bread and butter, my staple, my stability, now left me nauseous. The nuances are too numerous to explain.
Upon entering the work force, I was repelled. I knew I could not do this. Worry began to fill my mind, my heart, my soul, and even my dreams while asleep. On this day, as I drove to the store, I was in a stupor. I stopped at a red light. I was in the left-hand turn lane. A homeless man was standing on the medium. He held a sign expectedly asking for money. I had none. I rarely carry any and even if I had, I always leave my purse in the trunk. I knew I could not give him change; I did not have enough for myself. In truth, I worried I would soon be him.
I did not wish to meet his eyes, to see his soul. I could not face my own and his presence reminded me of whom I might become. I did, however, read his sign. It said, “Imagine me being you, and looking away.” Oh my, that was exactly what I was imagining, my life could easily be as his. I believe there was more on the sign; however, in this moment, I recall my feeling overwhelmed more than all the words that took me there.
In an instant, I remembered that a week earlier my father had taken the toll-way. He had left the change in my car and told me to keep it. I might need it at some time. Perhaps if I ever drive the turnpike, the change will do me good. When he said this, I thought, ‘not likely.’ I will never waste money on such a highway. I had tucked the quarters away in the side pocket of my car door.
When I saw the man, I knew the money was meant for him. My father was always giving to the homeless. He would not object to my doing so also. I pulled the quarters out and called to the destitute and scruffy man. I extended my handful of change apologizing as I did so.
I explained this was all that I had and though I knew it was not much, I hoped it would help. [Tears are flowing again as I retell this tale.] He sweetly smiled and explained, "There is no need for you to apologize." He said, “Say God Bless.” I was reluctant. I believe “Thou art God.” Yet, I was not feeling the least bit divine. I reject religious overtures; too often, they seem insincere. However, coming from this man, in this moment, I decided to oblige. I thought ‘I am okay with this.’ Thus, I said, “God Bless.”
The gentle man then replied, "If you say God bless and I say God bless than all will be well." Perhaps it will. Whether God is within, above, or throughout, even if God does not exist other than in the recesses of our minds, I believe what is God, or the personification of such, is “goodness.” If we say and act upon all that is good, if we remember and consider that we are all connected to our neighbors and treat them with reverence, all will be well.
This week, Tony Snow was reminded of his humanity, weeks ago I recalled mine. Imagine what the world would be if we each chose to be human and humane daily, if we chose to connect to each other and ourselves.
References For Your Review . . .
• Fox anchor named Bush press secretary CNN News. Wednesday, April 26, 2006
• Understanding poverty and homelessness in America By Gerry Roll. Yahoo News. Monday May 22, 2006
• Tony Snow gets personal in first on-camera session CNN News. Tuesday, May 16, 2006
• Couric failed to question Snow about "tar baby" remark Media Matters. Wednesday, May 17, 2006
• The tears of Snow, By Michael Scherer. Salon.com May 17, 2006
• Tony Snow Has 1st On-Camera Press Session, By Jennifer Loven, The Washington Post. Tuesday, May 16, 2006
• Snow Pick May Signal Less Insular White House, By Jim VandeHei and Michael A. Fletcher. Washington Post. Thursday, April 27, 2006; Page A01
• Tony Snow Cries During First Formal Briefing Massachusetts News
• Snow Meets the Press By John Eggerton. Broadcasting & Cable, Tuesday, May 16, 2006
• FNC's Tony Snow Has Colon Cancer By Don Kaplan. Fox News. Tuesday, February 15, 2005
• Tony Returns to the Microphone! By Tony Snow. Fox News. April 21, 2005
• FOX News' Tony Snow Among Possible White House Spokesman Candidates. Fox News. Wednesday, April 19, 2006
• Press Briefing by Tony Snow James S. Brady Briefing Room. May 16, 2006
• “Don't trust anyone over thirty.”
• Erich Fromm, Biography By Dr. C. George Boeree
• Meister Eckhart
• Homeless in America By Raven Tyler. NewsHour. December 11.2002
• Homeless in America Witness for Justice. May 13, 2002